It might come as a surprise that the best-selling menu item week after week at a restaurant named Central Food is a Korean pork sandwich. The popular selection, in fact, was a fluke, and the chef of the aforementioned Central Food also makes buckets full of the sandwich’s accompaniment, kimchi.
Such is the case at David Blaine’s Central Food in Kendall Yards, where the entire establishment, and not just the patio, has a nearly panoramic view of downtown Spokane from Riverfront Park to the Maple Street Bridge and beyond.
“I have two Korean aunts, and family gatherings included bulgogi and kimchi and lots and lots of egg rolls,” Blaine said while seated with a white coffee cup in hand at Central Food. “It’s an idea of merging cultures. As an American cook, I definitely understand that idea and enjoy exploring it. I love learning about food and different cultures.”
Blaine is a talkative, thoughtful and opinionated restaurateur, and a conversation on a recent Saturday morning ran the gamut from Central Food – his neighborhood bistro specializing in locally sourced new American fare – being the first business in Kendall Yards and his wildly popular Korean pork sandwich on the menu to running only one restaurant and the city of Spokane’s stronger self-esteem.
Here are highlights of the talk with the chef who has been cooking for nearly 35 years:
How has it been for Central Food and you in Kendall Yards since you opened in 2012?
Little by little, the talk for this area at the beginning went from office buildings to apartment buildings, and that worked out really well for us. In the early conversations, there was a big concern that it was going to be a ghost town after 5 o’clock, that everyone would disappear.
Why this location for your restaurant?
Spokane loves a patio. They’re obsessed with patios. Maybe it’s because we have the seasons, so when it goes away, we want it back. The layout of Central Food, where we can have a long, linear patio, everyone is on the front row. It’s one of the few places in town where you can eat and see the river from the entire restaurant.
We’re in the sweet spot where we benefit from people going downtown to go shopping, but we also have that neighborhood feeling where people ride their bikes and get breakfast on Sunday mornings. It’s a restaurant for all types of occasions during the week.
How did you come up with the name Central Food?
There were a thousand worse names that we came up with before Central Food. We threw a lot of words on paper. It’s hard to come up with something that doesn’t eventually become dated. I looked at the list not too long ago, and words like Commons and Hall were words that were just becoming popularized for restaurants across the country. If we would’ve gone that route, it would have seemed caught in that era.
The one I wanted was Congress because it means a meeting place, but the problem is that Congress is one of the least-liked organizations in the world, and it also references the yoga position Congress of the Cow. So it’s either fornication or a completely inept body of politicians. I gave up on Congress, but I liked it. I also seriously debated Untitled, the default when you don’t have a name.
So Central Food?
The name reflects that we’re in West Central, and we’re centralized near downtown. We’re a casual place where you can drop in at any time. I’ve been in this town a long time, and I like to go to places that appeal to a really broad audience. Spokane is a casual-oriented city that also appreciates places that are trying to be contemporary. We’ve never tried to be cutting edge.
Your colleagues have opened restaurant after restaurant after restaurant, and you have focused on one.
They’re younger than me! I’ve had this conversation with Jeremy Hansen and Adam Hegsted. I’m at a different stage in my life. Both of them have young kids. Both of them have a long career ahead of them. I’ve been cooking in restaurants since 1985. I have a daughter who’s grown and graduated from college.
What I want out of my life and my lifestyle is different than them. I’m not willing to work that hard! I see Central Food as my last job. I really love this industry because it’s been really good to me, and I can be flexible and pursue all my other interests. I like to balance my life like that.
What are your favorite items on the menu at Central Food right now?
We always say that we’re ingredient-driven, and I have a lot of long-standing relationships with producers. We change things out, but we don’t get rid of things that are wildly popular. Over these last six years, there are just things that never go away because they fit what people want from us. The Korean pork sandwich has been the No. 1 selling sandwich for every single week that we’ve been open.
Wait … what?
It’s a fluke! I made a Kalbi beef marinade and multiplied it by too many times and had a lot left. I was just trying to figure out how to use this in everything. I added pork shoulder and then thought maybe a pulled pork sandwich. The sandwich became how to use up leftovers. We make kimchi, we have the Korean pork and bibimbap, so we get the question a lot, “There seems to be a lot of Korean on your menu?”
What has been the best part of running Central Food in Kendall Yards?
The timing was perfect. Spokane has never had this level of self-esteem. Forget about economic boom. It really is that people stopped feeling negative about this city. That attitude is feeding a lot of different things, and I’ve benefited as an independent owner-operator. Kendall Yards has become a point of pride – I love that Kendall Yards has become a point of pride for Spokane.
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